Lessons & Classroom Games for Teachers
"The Gift of the Magi" is a short story written by O. Henry in 1906. The story revolves around a married couple who wish to buy each other presents for Christmas but have little money. So each can afford to buy a gift the other will love, they sell off their own possessions, making their new gifts useless. This story teaches what giving is really about and how giving can truly be more rewarding than receiving.
A good way to start this story is by having students do a quick paragraph on the saying, "It's better to give than to receive." Have students write about why this saying came to be and what it means. Instruct students to write for three or four minutes, and then discuss what they wrote.
Preparing to Read
Since this story was written in 1906, discuss the idea of inflation to deal with the dollar values mentioned in the story. Introduce the idea of the Magi, the three wise men from the Bible, and why the title "The Gift of the Magi" might be appropriate. Introduce difficult vocabulary words from the story including: imputation, parsimony, mendicancy, depreciated, meretricious and King Solomon. Most of these words are no longer commonly used, so you will have to explain the meanings or students can look them up.
Reading the Story
Depending on the age level you teach, you will most likely want to read through the story together, stopping frequently to discuss meaning. If you don't already have a classroom set of "The Gift of the Magi," the text is available for free online at multiple websites. (See link in References.) Discuss the idea of dramatic irony with your class as you read, and then point out the irony that each character and the reader knows that the gifts purchased will be useless, but not the one receiving the gift.
Extending the Story
"The Gift of the Magi" lends itself well to having students rewrite the story with a different ending or outcome. Students can imagine what might happen if perhaps the wife made her purchase, but the husband did not sacrifice to make a purchase for her. You might also ask students to write about what the gifts given mean about the relationship between the husband and wife. You could consider having students write a modern-day version of "The Gift of the Magi."